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OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion through Blogs and Podcasts.
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It now appears that the Democrats are set to take the majority of the United States of Representatives by a razor thin margin. Control of the United States Senate appears to hang in the balance and set to go down to a razor thin margin as well. The United States looks set to get its first woman speaker Nancy Pelosi, who if confirmed will also be third in the line of succession according to the U.S. Constitution. The results also mean a short in the arm for Hillary Clinton who won her senate seat by a whopping majority and will most likely become the prime contender for the Democratic Nomination in the 2008 elections. U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seems to be the most likely casualty of any falllout in Washington in the aftermath of the Mid Term setback for the Republicans. While most of the punditry in the United States is busy parsing what this means to the rest of the lame duck Bush Presidency and the Iraq War, Offstumped examines some inplications for India and more specifically some lessons for the Indian Right.

First a critical look at the implications for India. While the headlines are bound to be interpreted as a major setback for the Bush Administration and by way of implication a negative impact on the engagement with India, the reality is likely to be quite different. To better appreciate this reality, one must understand how the legislature functions in the United States and more specifically how it has functioned in the Bush second term. To begin with unlike the Indian Parliament where measures passed by the legislature are eventually binding on the President as was evident in the case of the Office of Profit issue, the U.S. President wields a mighty veto pen that he can use to return legislation not to his liking. A split legislature as seems likely with the House and Senate going in different directions and an intransigent President would mean gridlock in Washington as was evident in the 1990s when a Republican controlled legislature shutdown the Bill Clinton U.S. federal government over budget disagreements.

What this means for India is that while India specific legislation will be slow to move or nearly stall one would not expect any significant course correction in the overall U.S. foreign policy towards India which now enjoys good bi-partisan support. The fate of the Indo-US Nuclear deal hangs in the balance, it remains to be seen if the lameduck representatives and senators return to Washington to act on it before their term expires. Failing passage by the current congress, one should expect the Indo US Nuke deal to go into cold storage for sometime while the newly elected Congress sorts out its legislative priorities in the face of likely gridlock. However a couple of factors could still work to India’s favor. The first being that the shift of power in the U.S. House of Representatives has been account of moderate democrats who have more conservative positions similar to Republicans than those to the far left who are known to take extreme positions on Nuclear Non-Proliferation.

This does mean that there could still be the necessary votes in the House of Representatives to push the Nuclear Deal. This may not be beyond the realm of possibility if one were to look at what kind of legislation has actually met with success in the Bush second term. It is usually issues that enjoy broad bi-partisan support where very many moderate democrats break ranks to vote with the Republicans. So there may still be hope for the Indo US Nuke Deal. The other factor that could work to India’s advantage is the Hillary Factor. The presumptive democratic nominee with her new found clout could influence the Democratic majority to move on the Indo-US Nuke deal given her Presidential ambitions. So much so for the Indo-US Nuke deal. The other area of concern for India would be Trade negotiations especially those areas like H1-B visas, outsourcing and environmental standards where Democrats are likely to push for a more protectionist line away from free trade. While this may not necessarily result in any course correction it could stall progress in areas like increasing the H1-B quota.

Beyond the legislative impact on India, there probably is a greater lesson for the Indian Right from how the Republican Party staved off anti-incumbency in the form of the six year itch of the Bush Presidency to razor thin losses. The Karl Rove, Ken Mehlman Republican Machine earned its reputation in the 2004 election with its turnout the base campaign to ensure a Bush victory. A similar turn out the base campaign in 2006 while not saving the Republican majority in the Congress was able to limit the losses to a razor thin majority despite the so called Tsunami of anti-incumbency that the frustration against the Iraq War was supposed to bring about. There in lies an important lesson to the Indian Right and the BJP. The BJP seems to have picked on this aspect if its performance in the Uttar Pradesh Civic Polls is anything to go by. Offstumped has analyzed the BJP’s victory in the 8 mayoral seats it managed to wrest in Kanpur, Lucknow, Ghaziabad, Gorakhpur, Varnasi amongst others. A look at the BJP’s performance in these Urban pockets over the years reveals it all. In election after election, starting with the watershed Lok Sabha elections of 1991 while the BJP may have won or lost seats in these urban areas its vote share has been a steady third of the overall votes polled reflecting a strong base of voters who have stood by it in thick and thin. It is this base that the BJP campaign managers targeted to pull of these string of victories in what were essentially triangular contests in Uttar Pradesh.

A lot has been written about the confusion within the central leadership of the BJP and the mainstream english news media had been all kinds of anxiety ever since Rajnath Singh took over as the BJP President over the influence exerted by the RSS. The victory in the UP Civic Polls is a confirmation that the BJP has finally learnt an important lesson on how a Right of Center Political outfit can win elections as demonstrated by the Republicans in the United States. It is by focusing on its base. By bringing in Sanjay Joshi and RSS pracharaks to plan and execute the nuts and bolts of the campaign in the UP Civic Polls, the BJP it now appears accomplished exactly that by ensuring its base is reached out to, listened to in selecing candidates and is mobilized and motivated to show up at the hustings to make a difference when the ballots are tallied.

This perhaps was the mistake of the Vajpayee, Advani combine in the run up to the 2004 General elections. Rather than focus on securing the base and ensuring the base stands by you, the late Pramod Mahajan India Shining Campaign attempted to broadbase the BJP’s appeal with a national message that was lost on what ended up being essentially localized races with little involvement of the committed BJP/RSS base. In fact the Vajpayee lead NDA should have picked a lesson or two from the George Bush school of governance that focused on securing the base first before reaching out across the aisle in its political agenda. In fact Offstumped would go furtherhe spell out the mantra for survivial for a Right of Center Party in the fragmented polity that is India. Unlike the Congress and the regional parties which essentially rely on the opportumism of anti-incumbency to get lucky at the hustings, a Right of Center Party like the BJP which is blessed with a committed base must focus purely on securing and turning out the base to guarantee victory. Narendra Modi has proved this in Gujarat, the Sanjay Joshi lead team has demonstrated that this can be replicated in Uttar Pradesh.

The mainstream english media be damned, if the BJP has to have any hope of emerging king maker in UP by ousting Mulayam and exercising leverage on Mayawati it has to focus on its base and run to the Right unapologetically. Offstumped has examined the voting patterns of the 80 odd lok sabha seats in UP over the 1991, 1996, 1999, 2004 elections to identify about 65 seats in which the BJP has committed 30% vote share. In Offstumped’s opinion these would be the seats to focus on for the BJP to secure its base by running on Right of Center issues with active organizational support from the RSS.

Offstumped Bottomline: The U.S. Mid Term polls could mean the Indo-US Nuke deal goes into cold storage unless the Indian Caucus members lobby the moderate Democrats to move on it. While George Bush and the Democrats brace for gridlock, India should rest hopes of expedited action on either H1-B visas or the Nuclear Deal. The Indian Right on the other hand should take a leaf or two on mobilizing its base and running on an unapologetic Right of Center Agenda to extend its gains in the Uttar Pradesh Civic Polls to the upcoming Assembly elections.

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